In spite of my being aware of all these last moments, I didn’t think that the last time I hugged my dog would be after I towelled him off in the trunk of our car. I offered to drive because I’d been able to spend more time with our Wuuzle than DH had. He sat in the back, his arm draped over the seat to scratch Banjo’s head. The rainfall was heavy and we stopped at one red light for longer than normal. If we could stay here in this moment forever, everything might be okay, I hoped. But the light turned green, and I reluctantly put my foot on the gas pedal.
We’d talked briefly about what would happen. I, as Banjo’s human mom, would hold his face. DH would stroke his body. Above all, we were not going to cry. Plenty of time for that… after… I pulled into a parking space and turned off the ignition. It was dark outside, a streetlamp cast an eerie orange glow. DH and I both burst into tears. We led our boy into the clinic with tears streaming down our faces. Whitney, whom I’d spoken to on the phone, greeted us. Her colleague, Debbie, stood up and ushered us into an exam room. She and handed me the paperwork. As the listed owner, I signed and dated the execution order with a shaking hand. She took the clipboard, and returned moments later with a large brown blanket on the floor for us all to sit on. I scooted off the chair and onto the floor. Banjo panted with stress, the way he always did at the vet. This was never going to be easy. It was either this or the howling shriek-bark if someone came to our house to do this. Either way, Banjo was going to be stressed. I reached for my dog, murmured soothing sounds.
A brief knock on the door, and the vet entered. Dr. H looked appropriately sombre. A blonde woman with kind eyes, about our age.
I wondered if she might ask us if we had considered rehoming our dog, but I guess our reason didn’t warrant a conversation.
“Have either of you ever euthanised a pet before?” she asked. DH and I shook our heads. She explained that first, Banjo would be taken away to have an IV placed in his leg. The first syringe would sedate him. His back legs would give out under him as the sedative took effect. The second syringe would stop his brain, and therefore his heart and lungs. The syringes would be given in quick succession. She would leave the room when she could not longer hear a heartbeat. Some people stay, but it’s okay if you want to leave the room while—
“We’re staying.” I interrupted. I understand not wanting to watch a beloved pet die, but DH and I never considered not being with Banjo for his last moments. We owed him that much.
(Here is where I broke down and couldn’t write anymore for a week.)
Another knock at the door. The vet techs were ready to insert the IV. Banjo, as usual, wouldn’t go without me leading him. I led him to the back area where he was going to be prepped. Dr. H was filling out paperwork. I felt sick. I handed the leash to the vet tech and stumbled back into the exam room.
DH and I sat on the brown blanket, our arms wrapped around each other. After a few minutes, I looked at my phone. 4:52pm. I put my phone away, wondering what was taking so long. My god, I hope they understood that we want to be with Banjo when he goes. What if they’re putting him down right now? What if I miss a chance to say goodbye? I was about to panic, was about to stand up and find someone. Just breathe. Keep it together, Lauren. There’s plenty of time to lose it. I exhaled, and heard the clatter-scratch of Banjo’s nails.
Reunited for the last time, he whined and shrieked with relief and we welcomed him joyfully. I saw the shaved patch on his right foreleg, the IV catheter poking out from under a sticky royal blue bandage, and felt so sorry.
A gentle knock. Dr. H entered. Kneeling, my eyes were about level with the two syringes in her hand. Would the fat syringe containing a thick milky solution be the thing to kill him, or would it be the smaller syringe with the watery dark pink?
I cleared my throat. “I’d like to space out the injections, maybe 10-15 seconds. I want Banjo’s last moments to be calm, hearing our voices.”
The three of us sat around Banjo. I watched as the fat syringe was plugged into the catheter. I watched as my dog startled. I watched as he panicked and looked to DH, his protector, for protection. The look on his face was undeniably What’s going on? Help! Those five seconds of panic will haunt me for the rest of my life.
Banjo’s back legs began to give way. His left leg went out to the side, so DH and I tucked it under him. I clasped his collar and coaxed him to the floor. I heard DH say we should take off his collar, and he did. This is it. I thought. This is the part where I tell Banjo how much I love him. I lay on my belly, holding my beautiful dog’s face in my hands, and scratched his thick fur on the back of his neck with one hand and stroked his ear with my thumb on the other hand. I pressed my cheek to his muzzle. I kissed him between his half-closed eyes. In my strongest voice I told him he was my best dog, the best buddy I could have asked for. In a flash of inspiration, I realised that he had experienced all his favourite words on this, his last day on earth.
“Thank you for being my dog… You’ll always be my Wu… We had a nice day today, didn’t we? We played outside in the garden with your squeaky ball… We had chicken… And treats… You saw Joni… We went to the beach… I love you so much, Wu-Wu…”
I heard DH murmuring to Banjo, kneeling over him. When he stopped speaking, we made eye contact and nodded, and with a brief sob I told the vet, “Okay.”
Still holding Banjo’s long face in my hands, I pressed my forehead to his. I could feel his gentle exhale cool on my cheek by my ear. I scooted down so that his last scent would be my breath.
Four rhythmic exhales followed by the tiniest puff of air, and I knew my dog was gone. I heard myself break down and wail like I’ve never heard myself before. The howl of a dog mom whose pup is dead. I heard the vet stand up, confirming that Banjo’s heart had stopped, and my wailing intensified.
I don’t know how long I cried for, but at some point I stopped long enough to sit up and look at Banjo. Without him holding it up, his head was heavier than I expected. His eyes were half-closed. His fur seemed brighter. He looked like a young dog again.
I looked in both his eyes. I kissed him on the nose. I smoothed a patch of fur, wet from my tears, below his blind eye. I played with the delicate fuzz just inside his ear. And then I broke down again. “I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to say goodbye to him,” I sobbed. I lay back on the floor again, cradling my dog’s head.
We stayed with Banjo perhaps 20 minutes. (I would have stayed longer, but DH wanted to leave right away. In that sense, we each compromised to support the other.) When I did finally get up, one of the last things I did was to smell his paw, and I was sad to feel it was already cold. In a moment of courage, I stood up. DH knelt by our dog and fondled his ear. It, too, was cold, and DH abruptly withdrew his hand, visibly distressed. Standing in the doorway, watching my two boys, I thought about going back to Banjo one last time, but I knew if I did that it would a long time before I could get up again. My last view of Banjo was him lying half of the brown blanket, half on the cold floor of a vet’s office, but it’s the five seconds of panic and the close-up of his dead head that play over and over in my head. I am utterly traumatised by watching my beloved dog die. (I have no regrets about staying, and if we ever have another dog, and if we ever had to euthanise that dog, I would absolutely stay with them until the end.)
It’s funny, I never fancied myself as a “dog mom” but Banjo’s death taught me that, in a sense, he was the creature who first made me a mother. And although I know—to the depths of my fucking soul—that once he snapped at V there was no other choice to be made, I am wracked with so much guilt. I can point to his waning quality of life and reason that, even if he hadn’t snapped, we would have had to make the difficult decision to euthanise him soon enough. But the timing was such that I had to choose between my dog and my daughter. It was a straightforward decision, but it is the worst thing I have ever had to do.